Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africa’s Apex Predators

Spirit Lion RayMorris1 Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex PredatorsWhen injured, the painted hunting dog knows she will be fed and cared for by her pack. African wild dogs are fiercely loyal. Everything is for the good of the pack. Through collaboration the wild dogs have become one of the world’s top predators, bagging a meal in 80 percent of hunts.

Sales are the animals startups must hunt to survive. There are many kinds. They are temperamental creatures, and the best customers don’t wait around to gobbled up. You must grab them. And you must do so while you outsmart and outmaneuver hungry competitors.

It’s a jungle out there

While the best salespeople seem born with the killer instinct, it’s rare and treasured talent.

Prospecting, sales interviews, and public speaking, are skills perfected over a lifetime. And there are no better instructors than Africa’s apex predators who survive in a harsh, ever-changing landscape through a combination of Camouflage, cunning and a lightning reflexes. Startups, take note.

BizDev lessons from Africa’s apex predators

What follow is a tactical breakdown of how Africa’s top predatory animals find and subdue their prey, and how startups can mimic their behavior to achieve growth and increase sales.

Painted Dogs CC Arno Meintjes Wildlife Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Be collaborative: Lessons of the painted hunting dog

Africa’s critically-endangered wild dogs are the continent’s most successful predators because they hunt together.

Able to run as much as 30 miles in a single day, prey animals don’t stand a chance. Selfless teamwork allows the African wild dog to overwhelm, confuse and eventually devour their prey through a variety of tactics.

Every meal is shared. Back home hunters regurgitate undigested meet to feed their pups and others who were not part of the hunt.

There’s no room for hotshots. The alpha male and alpha female are the only two that breed, but each wild dog’s contribution is vital to group’s success.


Team players never keep a feast to themselves. When everyone pitches in, everyone reaps the reward of a team effort.


Cheetah Running CC shootnfish Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Be tactical: Lessons of the cheetah

Cheetahs are the fastest land animal on the planet, able to hit top speeds between 59 and 64 mph. Cheetahs stalk close to prey, then close the gap with an explosive sprint.

But while speed is a remarkable evolutionary advantage, it’s the cheetah’s greatest liability. They lack stamina, and must slow their heart rate to begin eating. While the cheetah hyperventilates, lions and hyenas regularly snatch their food.


Seize first-mover advantage. Be quick to a new opportunity, but be wary of running down a deal alerting competitors who can profit from your hard work.

Leopard In Tree CC tmcfadyen Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Be opportunistic: Lessons of the leopard

The Leopard is an aerial predator par excellence. With prey targeted she drops from high tree branches stunning or paralyzing her victim.

Leopards are also capable open-field hunters, though they are extremely timid will abandon a kill rather than risk confrontation with lions or hyenas. Up in the trees they are unchallenged.


Choose your field of battle, watch your quarry from a distance, pick your moment. Strike without warning, then enjoy the spoils.

Crocodile CC Jules Holeboom Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Be stealthy: Lessons of the crocodile

Crocodiles are the ultimate stealth hunter, using patience and camouflage to their advantage.

Crocodiles hold their breath for more than an hour as they wait their prey to come within inches. A crocodile’s head comprises nearly 20 percent of it’s body, meaning a well-place bite is almost inescapable.

A large crocodile can go for an entire year without eating, though it’s more common for crocs to eat once per week. While this diet may sound spartan, crocodiles have survived this way for hundreds of millions of years.


With the luxury of patience you can anticipate the right customer walking right to your waiting jaws. Startups may not have hundreds of millions of years to figure out a business model, but if you’re solving a genuine problem, there are customers out there.


Hyena CC apenz Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Have endurance: Lessons of the hyena

Known popularly as foul-mannered scavengers, hyenas are actually highly-attuned team hunters. Hyenas have sharp night vision, a remarkable sense of smell, and unmatched endurance, able to run 60 miles per day.

Hyenas hunt their own food as much as 80 percent of the time, but they never apologize for stealing from lions, leopards and painted hunting dogs. Rather than waste energy hyenas will trail other hunters–often for hours–and  then rush a carcass as soon as a kill has been made.

With jaws that crack bone, and  stomach acid that digests teeth, hyenas are experts at convert forsaken scraps into life-sustaining nourishment.


The ability to outlast your prey–and your competition–ofte means the difference between success and failure. Luck is equal parts preparation and timing.  Put yourself at the right place at the right time, to swoop in and fill your belly. 

Male Lions Stalking CC Adrian Malment Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Use your strength: Lessons of the lion

A male lion weighs more than 500 pounds. With determination, brute force and hunting prowess he overpowers giraffe, cape buffalo, and even juvenile elephants.

Lions stalk within 150 feet of their prey, then make a killing sprint, overpowering and suffocating their victims with a bite to the windpipe. Sharp claws sink into flesh, and dagger-like teeth hold fast the the spinal cord, or other soft spots.

But the majestic lion is a startlingly ineffective hunter.  With big, clumsy bodies, and ferocious prey, lions are successful in as few as 15 percent of hunts.

There’s more than one way to earn a meal, however. Male lions rarely hunt for themselves.  Size and strength is used intimidate smaller predators–including female lions–away from kills.  A male lion can consume 25 percent of its weight in one feeding, and every mouthful is won. They don’t call it the lion’s share for nothing.


Big prey means big risk. A kick to the head from a fleeing zebra can kill a lion instantly. Cape buffaloes regularly gore lions with their massive horns. Death can even accompany a successful hunt.

Only attempt to go after big meals when you and your team are fighting fit. The consequence of messing up a big, important deal can leave you hungry, permanently hobbled, or worse.

The risk can be worth the reward. An adult giraffe is enough to feed a pride of lions continuously for three days.  Use your strength judiciously.


Zebra Wildebeest CC Marc Verart Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators



You’ve probably heard that a leopard can’t change his spots. But you’re an entrepreneur. On any day you are recruiter, team leader, fire fighter and janitor. And  everything in between.

The most effective salesperson is not the one with the best sales pitch, but the one who can easily adapt his or her behavior to suit the unique needs of each customer. Some customers want the best price, others want to get to know you as a person. This requires constant shape-shifting.

Masai Warrior CC rogersmithpix Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africas Apex Predators

Humans are physically weak, vulnerable animals. Our ancestors lived alongside Africa’s apex predators and we were on the menu for millennia. In order to outsmart our predator we had to first understand them, and become them.

Startups are weak, fragile organizations. Our willingness to take risks  is borne out of necessity. Flexibility, tenacity and a can-do attitude are the instincts that enable us to emerge as viable businesses.

Investor Mark Suster says that startups should hunt deer not elephants. This is vital. Prey too big can kill or permanently disable your business–even if you land it. Hunting animals that are too small will leave you hungry and desperate for your next meal.

It’s extremely rare that a 10-person startup will have what it takes to bag an elephant like Netflix or Google as a client. Better to invest your energy where it can pay dividends, and know the type of customer you can handle.

Know your strengths. Study your targets. Understand the competition. Constantly hone your skills.

Technology is eating the world. It’s time for you to take your bite.


Want to learn more about what makes Africa’s top hunters so successful? Watching YouTube’s best documentaries on apex hunters embedded below.






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One Response to “Startup Spirit Animals: 6 BizDev Lessons From Africa’s Apex Predators”

  1. uachima January 1, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    Great content Chi! Happy new year.

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